Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)

I followed along vaguely through the '90s with the Flaming Lips, Oklahoma's greatest rock 'n' roll band. Clouds Taste Metallic, in 1995 nearly 10 years from their origins, was where I climbed on board. I attended a listening party a couple years later for the Zaireeka box (four CDs with identical track sequencing but varying mixes intended to be played simultaneously on four strategically distributed stereos). Derived the requisite appreciation of The Soft Bulletin. Then this, so confounding in the suffocating slow-melt of its surface textures, a candy-colored confection so sweet in its best moments it gives you a cavity, a rubbery resilient thing filled with soaring spaces that lumbers about like an elephant. A kind of hallucination, or Disney cartoon feature, from beginning to end. Of course it is perfectly ridiculous in the central conceit of its concept—something about a Japanese girl and malevolent robots, "those evil-natured robots / They're programmed to destroy us"—which is as intended, mostly beside the point anyway. Tracks such as the title song "Pt. 1" or "Do You Realize??" or "Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon" are almost perfectly irresistible on early exposure, amazing, swooning music, with melodies and arrangements that spread slowly like pink haze in sunset across the stratosphere, carried easily by Wayne Coyne's shades-of-Neil-Young quavering vocals and the huge bottoms of production. In the end, I'm not sure how well it all holds up, however. My complaint at the time of Zaireeka (along with its implicit homework assignment of assembling four CD players in one room and figuring out a way to start them all at once, and oh yeah, it was sold as an expensive box set too) was that the Flaming Lips tended for me to be an acquired taste, music that yielded up more the more one became familiar with it, and how was one supposed to pay adequate study to such a difficult project of even hearing it at all? With Yoshimi it's as if they went to the other extreme, creating bubblegum music for instant infatuation, sacrificing the depths that had accompanied the earlier work. Such a conundrum. In fact, I'm not positive even now that Yoshimi isn't still capable of eventually offering up something more memorable than its only temporarily diverting pleasures: plangent synthesizer figures, catchy melodies, and an occasional aching sense of some ineffable beyond. I just haven't found it yet.


  1. Well 9 years on, I still love this one, even despite all the car commercials and video game soundtracks.

  2. It's definitely beautiful when it's beautiful. What do you make of Zaireeka?

  3. I respect it as an artistic statement, but find it too challenging to enjoy.